The Right to Be Forgotten in UK Law

The right to be forgotten in the UK is a critical aspect of data protection and privacy laws, allowing individuals to request the removal of personal data from the internet. This right is particularly significant in an era where digital footprints are extensive and can have long-lasting impacts on a person’s reputation and privacy.

Understanding the Right to Be Forgotten

The right to be forgotten is enshrined in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was adopted by the European Union in 2016 and incorporated into UK law through the Data Protection Act 2018. This legal provision empowers individuals to request that search engines and other data controllers erase their personal data under certain conditions.

UK Right to Be Forgotten

Historical Context and Legal Framework

The concept of the right to be forgotten gained prominence following a landmark ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in 2014. In the case of Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González, the court ruled that individuals could request the removal of personal information from search engine results if the information was outdated, irrelevant, or no longer necessary.

Following Brexit, the UK retained the GDPR within its domestic law, ensuring that the right to be forgotten remains applicable. The Data Protection Act 2018 provides the legal foundation for this right in the UK, outlining the conditions and processes for requesting data erasure.

How to Exercise the Right to Be Forgotten

To exercise the right to be forgotten in the UK, individuals must submit a request to the data controller, typically the organization or company that holds the data. This request should specify the data to be removed and the reasons for the request. The data controller is required to respond within one month, either complying with the request or providing a justification for refusal.

Conditions for Data Erasure

The right to be forgotten is not absolute and applies under specific conditions:

  1. The data is no longer necessary for the purpose it was collected.
  2. The individual withdraws consent on which the processing is based.
  3. The individual objects to the processing, and there are no overriding legitimate grounds for the processing.
  4. The data has been unlawfully processed.
  5. The data must be erased to comply with a legal obligation.
  6. The data was collected in relation to the offer of information society services to a child.

Exceptions to the Right to Be Forgotten

There are notable exceptions where the right to be forgotten does not apply, including:

  • Exercising the right of freedom of expression and information.
  • Compliance with a legal obligation or the performance of a task carried out in the public interest.
  • Public health purposes in the public interest.
  • Archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes.
  • The establishment, exercise, or defence of legal claims.

Implications for Search Engines

Search engines like Google play a significant role in the right to be forgotten. They are often the primary data controllers to whom individuals submit erasure requests. These companies must balance the right to privacy with the public’s right to access information, often leading to complex assessments of each request.

Legal Challenges and Case Studies

Several high-profile cases have highlighted the complexities of the right to be forgotten. For instance, in 2018, the UK High Court ruled in favour of a businessman seeking to have links to his past criminal conviction removed from search engine results, emphasising the rehabilitation of offenders and the right to privacy.

Balancing Privacy and Public Interest

The right to be forgotten raises important questions about balancing individual privacy with the public’s right to know. While it is crucial to protect individuals from the harm caused by outdated or irrelevant data, it is equally important to preserve the transparency and accountability facilitated by access to information.

Conclusion

The right to be forgotten in UK law represents a significant step towards empowering individuals to manage their digital identities. By understanding the legal framework and processes involved, individuals can better navigate the complexities of data protection and privacy in the digital age.

For More Information on the Right to Be Forgotten in the UK, visit ICO’s Right to be Forgotten Guidelines.


FAQs

1. What is the right to be forgotten? The right to be forgotten allows individuals to request the removal of personal data from the internet under certain conditions.

2. How do I request data erasure? Submit a request to the data controller, specifying the data to be removed and the reasons for the request.

3. What are the conditions for data erasure? Conditions include the data being no longer necessary, consent being withdrawn, or the data being unlawfully processed.

4. Are there exceptions to the right to be forgotten? Yes, exceptions include freedom of expression, legal obligations, public health, and archiving purposes.

5. How does the right to be forgotten affect search engines? Search engines must balance the right to privacy with the public’s right to access information when handling erasure requests.

6. What is the legal basis for the right to be forgotten in the UK? The right is based on the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018.

7. Can I request the removal of criminal records from search engines? In some cases, yes, particularly if the information is outdated and affects rehabilitation.

8. How long do data controllers have to respond to an erasure request? Data controllers must respond within one month.

9. What should I do if my erasure request is refused? You can challenge the decision with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

10. How does Brexit impact the right to be forgotten? The right to be forgotten remains in UK law post-Brexit through the Data Protection Act 2018. You may also be interested in our other pages such as the Full Court List UK. Also read here.